Rail Travel (Safety)

Oral Answers to Questions — Wales – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th April 1991.

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Photo of Mr Denzil Davies Mr Denzil Davies , Llanelli 12:00 am, 29th April 1991

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales when he next intends to meet the chairman of British Rail to discuss the state of the rail network in Wales, including aspects of safety.

Photo of Kim Howells Kim Howells , Pontypridd

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what measures are being taken to improve safety of rail travel in Wales.

Photo of Mr Wyn Roberts Mr Wyn Roberts , Conwy

My right hon. Friend meets the chairman of British Rail at regular intervals to discuss a range of issues. They last met on 8 February and expect to do so again later this year. British Rail's plans for maintaining and improving its safety record are set out in its safety plan, which was published in February.

Photo of Mr Denzil Davies Mr Denzil Davies , Llanelli

The Minister of State may be aware that recently a young constituent of mine, who was coming home on leave from the Navy, fell to his death from a train between Newport and Cardiff. I do not wish to comment on the details of that case, but does the Minister agree that there is a considerable impression—based on observation—that British Rail staff are unable to ensure that train doors are shut tight before a train leaves a station? Does he further agree that if someone falls from a train when a door is not defective and has not been opened from the inside, the only reasonable conclusion is that the door was not shut tight at the preceding station?

Photo of Mr Wyn Roberts Mr Wyn Roberts , Conwy

I know of the specific case to which the right hon. Gentleman refers and we extend our sympathy to the young man's family. I cannot comment on that particular case, but the provisional figures for passenger fatalities caused by falls from trains in 1990 was 19, the same as it was for the previous two years. We have received coroners' reports on 11 of those 19 cases and none of the 11 deaths was caused by faulty door locks. From 1985 to 1989 there was no evidence of faulty doors resulting in one such death.

Photo of Kim Howells Kim Howells , Pontypridd

Does the Minister agree that it is a sad state of affairs that a leading newspaper, for example, can point out that there may have been more than 100 deaths during the past six years, which were not explained, by people falling out of trains? If doors can be opened during a journey, does he agree that we should be well advised to consider other systems of ensuring that doors remain locked and that passengers cannot open them? Will he ask British Rail what proposals it has for incorporating such a design feature into new rolling stock and whether it will modify existing rolling stock to ensure that doors do not open during journeys?

Photo of Mr Wyn Roberts Mr Wyn Roberts , Conwy

I assure the hon. Gentleman that independent consultants were appointed by British Rail and they concluded that train doors are safe. Their report has been considered by Her Majesty's railway inspectorate, which will decide whether further action is necessary. I assure the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Gentleman that British Rail investigates fully every fall from a train and its report and that from the coroner's inquest are made available to Her Majesty's railway inspectorate. Even if a door is not closed properly, there is a safety catch device which prevents it from opening.

Photo of Mr John Marshall Mr John Marshall , Hendon South

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that in the draft Labour Budget produced by the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) there was not one extra penny for investment in the railway system and that the best way to get more money invested in the railway is to privatise it so that, like other privatised industries, it can go into the marketplace and obtain other capital investment?

Photo of Mr Wyn Roberts Mr Wyn Roberts , Conwy

Although that is technically a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, I assure my hon. Friend that there have been no financial constraints on safety expenditure. The Government endorsed in full expenditure of £70 million on additional safety measures in 1990–91 and British Rail plans to spend more than £300 million over the next three years. Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend that the privatisation of British Rail is much to be desired.